• Mutual loathing as Bramall Lane club return in League Cup
• Relegation after Argentinian signed for West Ham still festers
The second round of the League Cup is not usually associated with vitriol, venom and downright loathing but there will be an abundance of all three at Upton Park on Tuesday evening when West Ham welcome Sheffield United for the first time since the clubs had an ever so minor disagreement over a certain Argentinian.
The memory of Carlos Tevez and the court cases that saw West Ham pay £20m in compensation to Sheffield United remains an incendiary issue between the clubs and one that infuses this fixture like lighter fluid. Resentment has festered.
Tevez’s arrival with Javier Mascherano at West Ham on transfer deadline day in August 2006 sowed the seeds of a problem. The discovery of the third-party agreements concerning the players that came to light in January 2007 provided the soil in which they could grow. The independent Premier League commission’s decision to impose a record £5.5m fine rather than a points deduction did all the watering and weeding required for the issue to come into full bloom. West Ham opted not to appeal. Kevin McCabe, the Sheffield United chairman, felt the decision “invited anarchy”.
On the final day of the season West Ham went to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and got the win they needed, with, of course, Tevez scoring the only goal of the game. At Bramall Lane Neil Warnock’s side needed only a draw to relegate their opponents Wigan Athletic, who would then very likely have taken United’s place in what was to come, but lost 2-1 thanks to a David Unsworth penalty.
United lost an initial appeal against their relegation in the summer of 2007, despite an arbitration panel admitting that it “would in all probability have reached a different conclusion and deducted points from West Ham”. A year after relegation an independent FA tribunal found in their favour, with the chair, Lord Griffiths, judging that: “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.”
Sheffield United had wanted compensation of up to £45m in lost income but in the end came to an out-of-court settlement with West Ham that saw the Hammers pay almost £20m. The West Ham chief executive, Scott Duxbury, said he was pleased to “draw a line under this whole episode”, McCabe was “happy and satisfied” with the settlement that had been reached in discussions that were “friendly, co-operative and in the best of spirit”. The final payment was delivered in the summer of 2013. The boardrooms and moneymen may have been able to bury the hatchet but football fans have longer memories than those that run their clubs.
Sheffield United’s trajectory since 2007 has hardly helped. Thanks to that original £5.5m fine, the Premier League itself has been the target of much of the supporters’ ire and the club have spent the intervening years getting as far away from it as possible. The financial boon of the final settlement should have helped Sheffield United bounce back towards the top flight but the parachute payments and money received from West Ham were squandered and the club are beginning their fourth successive season in the third tier.
All but a handful of the original players in the drama have moved on – Chris Morgan, now first-team coach, is the only member of the playing staff from 2006-07 still at Bramall Lane. Carlton Cole, James Collins and Mark Noble, one of whom is likely to start on Tuesday evening, are the only West Ham players at the club who were team-mates of Tevez. The No32 shirt worn by Tevez is now on the back of 17-year-old Reece Burke, who was 10 years old when West Ham performed their great escape at Old Trafford.
Both sets of fans seem convinced that the other is far more bothered about the tie than they are. In truth, both desperately want a modicum of revenge. “It’s about me making sure that they [the fans] go home happy because they feel aggrieved about what Sheffield United did,” said the West Ham manager, Sam Allardyce. “So if I can do that for them it will be great.”