London in confusion

It has been a disastrous season for the London football clubs. West Ham got relegated and Arsenal and Chelsea also flattered to fail.

The ugly and embarrassing brawl which recently broke out at the very fashionable Grosvenor Hotel in London's Park Lane, at what was meant to be a celebratory West Ham United dinner — a hugely expensive one too — was somehow symbolic. Both of the chaotic condition of the West Ham club, which had only just been relegated from the Premiership, and by extension of London football at large. You could only endorse the views of the former West Ham manager and erstwhile outside right, Harry Redknapp, now, of course at Spurs, when he wondered what there was to celebrate, after such a disastrous season.

David Sullivan, one of the two millionaire pornographers — there is no secret about the source of their wealth— who own the club tried quite, unconvincingly, to put the trouble down to one drunken thug. In fact, before the heavy security men quelled the riot it had involved many others, with tables and chairs overturned, glass smashed. Allegedly Senegal's Demba Ba had declined to sign a drunken fan's proffered jersey.

Sullivan's co-owner, David Gold, had already said that were the Hammers to be relegated, they would sell their four England internationals, the outstanding midfielder Scott Parker, who had already expressed his determination to leave were the team relegated, centre forward Charlton Cole and goalkeeper Robert Green, plus Matthew Upson, though he's had an uneasy season as a centre back. Only for the two owners subsequently to promise that these players will leave only if large enough fees are paid.

Gone already and, arguably, not a moment too soon was the hapless, ever gloomy Israel manager, Avram Grant, whose appointment made as little sense when originally known as it did when he was sacked immediately after Hammers had lost their penultimate match at Wigan and thus knew that they were doomed. True, Gold and Sullivan belatedly tried to replace the ineffectual Israeli coach last January with the ex-Villa manager Martin O'Neill, but there was never a hope of that, and they inexplicably stuck to Grant, devoid as he is both of tactical flair and motivational powers. Now, however, he stands to pocket a substantial payoff. Meanwhile, Hammers' situation is further complicated by the affair of the Olympic Stadium.

Fending off strong competition from Tottenham Hotspur who, to the ire of their fans, wanted to move all the way across London from a White Hart Lane base where they have been since the late 19th century, West Ham were granted, by the relevant Olympic body, supported both by the London authority's flamboyant Mayor Boris Johnson and a bewildering GBP40 million loan from the local Newham Borough — one of the poorest in London — the right to move from Upton Park to the Olympic arena in 2014. To the outrage not only of Spurs but of nearby Leyton Orient, in the equivalent of the 3rd division, who fear with good reason, that they would be driven out of business were West Ham to move so near to them, in the Stratford stadium. Both clubs have mounted legal challenges and Orient have gone to football arbitration as well.

Yet could the Olympic Stadium prove a poisoned chalice for Hammers if they succeed in acquiring it? The 60,000 capacity would surely be hard enough to fill even were they, by 2014, back in the Premiership, but the way things are going, there is every possibility they would still be in a so called Championship, and with all the probable “bargain” offers to potential supporters, their plight could be disastrous.

Chelsea, under the billionaire patronage of the Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, have no such financial problems, yet their season has ended on a bleak note of anticlimax and you wonder whether brighter prospects are in store. That Abramovich is an interfering owner is nothing new. Go right back to 1913 and after and you find the imperious and domineering millionaire Sir Henry Norris, bringing Arsenal across the Thames from obscurity in South East London's Plumstead to Highbury, spending huge sums of money to keep them afloat during the Great War and nominating his manager Leslie Knighton, till it came to the appointment in 1925 of the iconic Herbert Chapman. Not to mention the flagrant middle, whereby he managed to lift them from the second division where they had finished only fifth in 1915 to the first when soccer officially resumed in 1919. Those who pay the piper call the tune.

But, in Chelsea's case the tune has become discordant. Whereas no long since, when Chelsea surely to gratify Abramovich's whim, shelled out ludicrous GBP30 million to buy a burnt out Andrei Shevchenko, Jose Mourinho refused to play him, Carlo Ancelotti has lacked the courage of his convictions, time and again absurdly preferring the now peripheral Fernando Torres (cost GBP50 million) to the dynamic Didier Drogba. Much good has it done him and his team. You might say that Ancelotti, probably doomed anyway, given Chelsea's diminished results, might as well have been hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. And now he's been ruthlessly sacked.

Across London, we find at Arsenal an increasingly agitated Arsene Wenger, under fire after the disappointment of the Gunners' season. Hardly his fault if his Belgian, centre back Thomas Vermaelen, missed almost the whole season in a defence which crumbled time and again, though surely Wenger might have bought a new centre back. Nor did Wenger make much sense when he didn't buy a new keeper. Now Arsenal must play in the European Cup qualifiers; yet again without a domestic trophy.