Sun, May 06, 2007 - Page 24 News List

Hammers' rivals threaten legal action over `offense'

AP , LONDON

Scrambling to avoid relegation, West Ham United now has five of its rivals threatening legal action to try and have some of its points taken away.

The Hammers, in second-to-last place in the Premier League, have already been fined ?5.5 million (US$10.45 million) for breaking Premier League regulations over the signings of Argentine internationals Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano near the start of the season.

Not enough, say their relegation rivals -- they should have had points taken away, too.

"This is a very serious offense West Ham committed," said Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, whose team is level on points with West Ham but currently out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

"They broke the law, told blatant lies and should have got a 10-point penalty. Tevez has been playing illegally all season and they changed all kinds of rules to allow him to play," he said.

If the Premier League had handed out a 10-point penalty on Friday instead of the fine, West Ham would already be making plans for the lower Football League Championship next season.

West Ham got into trouble with the Premier League when it was shown that Tevez and Mascherano, who moved from Brazilian club Corinthians, had their contracts owned by a third party. That broke Premier League rules and, after an investigation into the transfer, the club pleaded guilty before an independent disciplinary panel.

The commission said it decided against docking points because the club was under different management at the time of the transfer and the new owners had told the league of the rule breaches.

While Tevez has stayed at West Ham, Mascherano moved on to Liverpool and now has a chance of collecting a Champions League winner's medal when the Reds face AC Milan in the final in Athens, Greece, on May 23.

During the course of the investigation, West Ham has been picking up good results to draw level with Wigan in the struggle to avoid the drop.

If West Ham survives and Wigan goes down, Whelan will be furious.

He says he will support any legal action the bottom six clubs take against West Ham and the Premier League.

"Justice would be West Ham being one of the two clubs that still has to go down, but justice has so far not been served in this case," he said. "If there was any action taken by the bottom six clubs that are in danger of going down, I'd be a big supporter of that action. I think the bottom six will stick together and take action together whichever two clubs go down, if West Ham aren't one of them."

Sheffield United is another relegation-threatened club which says it has taken legal advice over the ruling against West Ham but has not yet decided on what action to take.

"The Premier League decision was not in the natural course of justice and it did not consider the implications for the other clubs," said Blades chairman Kevin McCabe, whose 15th-place team is three points above West Ham before visiting Aston Villa yesterday.

"We've been proactive in protecting our position and we'll be attending a meeting in London with the other clubs," he said.

Fulham is another team in danger and had the toughest game of all yesterday, hosting Liverpool. The Cottagers were 16th and only one point above West Ham.

Charlton Athletic has to wait until tomorrow to discover what it has to do to survive.

Charlton was two points behind West Ham and Wigan before yesterday's games.

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