On Monday I received an Email from Barry Hearn saying “I read your last piece on Leyton Orient which frankly I found a bit inaccurate. I think it would be fun for you and I to get together for a question and answer piece, so at least the West Ham fans can have the truth from our side.”
The article he was referring to was ‘the Double Standards of Barry Hearn’ article which can be found HERE
I took Barry up on his offer and on Tuesday afternoon I interviewed him for 75 minutes in his Match Room Sports offices in Brentwood, Essex. There is too much material for one post so I will cover the interview in a number of articles covering his Olympic Stadium challenge, the absurd ‘750 yards from Leyton Orient’ claim and whether he loves Spurs. In this article I will cover what Barry has to say about his deal to buy Brisbane Road, the money he made from selling the four corners, the ownership of the stadium and whether he believes Leyton Orient received state aid.
I started with the simple question “Are you going to European Union to complain about State aid for West Ham?”
Barry answered “No! I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it, the only way I would do it is if I got into a vindictive mode and I’d lost anything and I had nothing to lose”
I probed further asking “What conditions would you go to the European Union to complain about state aid?”
“That’s a really tough question to answer because I am not sure I can gain anything, it is tough because I am trying to be truthful. I am using the threat of Europe as a tactical manoeuvre at the moment but I want to be taken seriously”
Barry said he talked to European lawyers last week and their advice is he has a good chance of winning in Brussels.
He also had a meeting with Margaret Hodge Chairman of the powerful House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last Thursday. He claims Margaret said to him “We don’t want this to go to Europe do we Barry?” This is a new twist as he appears to be lobbying the House of Commons select committee which overseas value for money for tax payers to look into our deal.
It is obvious Barry considers the threat of a European investigation as his ultimate weapon of mass destruction, but like all nuclear weapons it might be a case mutually assured destruction for many in football.
Providing me more details of how he acquired Brisbane Road stadium which I still claim could equally to open of claims of state aid he proudly explained he got ‘the deal of the century’ when Waltham Forest Council sold him Brisbane Road Stadium for £350,000 after he threatened to leave the area because Leyton Orient were losing so much money. Barry added “I couldn’t believe they sold it so cheaply, unbelievable price. I gave them a cheque the same day.”
He confirmed he does pay £1 a year for ground rent but says that is immaterial as he has a 999 year lease so it is just a pepper corn rent and claims he effectively owns the freehold of the land. I challenged him on this to say if he effectively owned the freehold why did he have to go back to Waltham Forest council to seek a variation in his lease and why did he give the council a million pounds when he sold the four corners to property developers in a deal worth £7.5M?
In a classic Barry Hearn answer said “I gave them a million pounds because I felt guilty, I didn’t have to give them anything” but he admitted the council saw things differently.
He also confirmed his company Match Room Sports purchased the Brisbane Road stadium for £6m in 2009 and now offers a 20 lease year back to Leyton Orient with rent reviews every 5 years. He says the whole Brisbane Road area is zoned for residential planning which could fetch significant value if redeveloped but claimed he is only interested in getting his £6m back and any excess profit would be ploughed back into Leyton Orient if he became a tenant of the Olympic Stadium.
I am grateful to Barry for clearing things up but we disagree on the difference of how his deal with Waltham Forest, West Ham’s deal with the LLDC or Spurs £41m deal with Haringey which the Guardian covered HERE last month is any different!
If one is classed as state aid they all should in my opinion and Manchester City’s use of the Ethiad stadium now I come to think about it.
Further from the Barry Hearn interview soon.