Just when you thought West Ham could see out the remainder of the season without any late drama on and off the pitch, HM Revenue and Customs step in to throw in a huge curveball that nobody saw coming.
Officers have raided the London Stadium as part of an investigation into insurance tax and National Insurance fraud which amounts to £5 million, with Newcastle’s St. James’ Park also searched as concerns about tax evasion in the football industry continues to grow. Business records, mobile phones, computers and financial records are amongst the items seized by officers who also arrested a number of senior members.
Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley is believed to be amongst those taken away for questioning, and while the official press statements made do not mention anyone from our club, a West Ham statement made it clear that we are co-operating fully to assist in HMRC’s inquiries. Why am I not surprised that something like this would happen?
It may ultimately turn out to be nothing and that those who have been arrested will be cleared of any wrongdoing into tax evasion, but it is difficult not to think that this is the last thing West Ham need. Matters on the pitch have been turbulent enough as it is this season, with lofty pre-season hopes instantly flattened by a shocking start that saw us fearing of a relegation battle, only to bounce back strongly and then waver between brilliant and awful as consistency continues to evade us.
Slaven Bilic has looked like a man on the end of his tether on numerous occasions, and while I am glad that the board stuck with him during the difficult periods, you can imagine he has not taken the news well. It is hardly what we need in a season defined by turbulence on and off the pitch, and while Bookmaker Ratings may back the Hammers to fare much better in 2017/2018 via the free bets bookmakers listed on their site, we have to get our house in order before anyone can look towards the future. The excellent 1-0 win against Tottenham would certainly suggest that Bilic and the players have remained focused on their job on the pitch, but you could not blame them if recent events have made them question their future at the club.
I can only hope that West Ham are not found guilty of tax evasion, but my immediate concern is to wonder what the consequences are. Any suggestion of a points deduction would instantly make any fan panic, even if Bookmaker Ratings believe we will live to fight another day in the Premier League; the Hammers are eight points clear of Hull with two games to go, and while that makes us mathematically safe, take a few points away and what you are left with is an anxious end to the campaign.
Thankfully, reports appear to indicate that any sort of punishment that is handed out would be financial-based, not the deduction of points. I can imagine that those on Tyneside will breathe a greater sigh of relief than us as any loss of points may have seen their title celebrations after winning the Championship turn sour straight away, but they, like West Ham, may only be hit in the pocket.
The owners, usually so chipper and willing to air their views on social media, have yet to make their feelings known on the shock raid from HMRC officials. You would imagine that all three will do everything they can to assist HMRC in their investigation and ensure that the club’s integrity remains intact, even if that means having to appoint new personnel if those in question are proven guilty of fraud.
Only time will tell as to whether the investigation uncovers any wrongdoing at West Ham, but while this is yet another disruption to what has been a turbulent season, we have to keep moving forward and hope that this potential setback does not come back to haunt us.