Opening a can of worms?
Posted by John Beech on March 27, 2013
The varying relationship between football clubs and their local councils I have, in a previous posting, described as a postcode lottery. It is often a vital one, especially when the stadium sits at the heart of an issue. I am of course particularly aware of this as a resident of Coventry, where a protracted dispute lingers on with ever more serious potential consequences, as those who follow my news tweets (@JohnBeech) will be aware. (Even after the High Court hearing yesterday there are unanswered questions, so I’m going to pass on commenting until things are clearer.)
The European Commission is not a body which ever normally prompts me to write about football, but a recent news item had set me thinking. The report (1) referred to an in-depth investigation by the European Commission into the relationships between five Dutch councils and their local football clubs. The concern was with whether there had been any breaches of EU law in the way that the councils may possibly have given illegal state aid to the clubs.
The full official report on the EC’s investigation so far can be found here. The specific findings to date on the five clubs under investigation are given below:
Name of club
Year of measure
|NEC (1st league)||2010||Municipality of Nijmegen bought off a claim made by NEC for €2.2 million.|
|MVV (2nd league)||2010||Municipality of Maastricht waived a claim of € 1.7 million on MVV and bought the stadium for €1.85 million.|
|Willem II (1st league)||2010||Municipality of Tilburg lowered rent of stadium with retroactive effect, total advantage €2.4 million.|
|PSV (1st league)||2011||Municipality of Eindhoven bought land from PSV for €48.385 million and leased it back to this club.|
|FC Den Bosch (2nd league)||2011||Municipality of Den Bosch waived a claim of €1.65 million on FC Den Bosch and bought training facilities for €1.4 million.|
It is not the enormity of the potential crimes that set me thinking, rather their almost mundane nature. In England, were there clubs who would find themselves in similar, if not identical circumstances, inadvertently being guilty of receiving illegal state aid? On the face of it, the answer is surely ‘yes’.
Certainly there are English clubs which rent their stadiums from the local council as the owner of the stadium. There are equally certainly others who have received financial support in building new stadiums.
What really set me thinking about all of this was the accidental discovery of a report that Spanish clubs may also be under investigation. This I came across in the 7th March issue the print edition of the English language version of the respected newspaper El Pais (not, I have to be honest, part of my regular reading material – it was a freebie on a flight from Madrid to Munich). I’ve been unable to find the report in English on the newspaper’s website (but the original Spanish is here).
The report implied that the Spanish investigation was not taking place in a pubic way – there was an inferred secrecy surrounding it. Could it be that the football clubs of yet other nations were under investigation?
If such an investigation were (and you’ll note my cautionary use of the subjunctive) to take place with respect to English clubs, which might have cause for concern?
Given my clear admission that I am not a legal expert, for once I would positively encourage readers’ comments. I would particularly like to hear the views of legal academics who specialise in football clubs (and even post-games Olympic stadiums, and post-Commonwealth-games stadiums!).