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Half a million pounds might buy, say, a premier footballer’s big toe.
Leading footballers change hands for multi-million pound sums and £500,000 is small change.
It’s a more significant sum to a council, and is what Lewisham LBC faces paying for a barrister-led inquiry into its role in a property deal that would be detrimental – or not, depending on one’s view – to Millwall Football Club’s ground.
Football is an obvious temptation for councils – the reflected glory of a successful team, the kudos from helping a struggling one, the possibility of development partnerships and planning gain.
But football clubs are businesses; some of them very large. And not just any old businesses, but ones with which thousands of voters have a strong emotional bond.
Lewisham might anyway have faced local controversy over the New Bermondsey redevelopment.
But without Millwall’s role it seems unlikely that two of local government’s most respected figures – elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock (Lab) and chief executive Barry Quirk – would have endured public savagings or been driven to hold such a costly inquiry.
Across London, a leaked email has shown Tottenham Hotspur complain of Haringey LBC’s supposed lack of interest in plans for a new ground, with the implication of questions over promised investment.
Club chair Daniel Levy says Spurs has been “taken for granted” by Haringey, complaining that the club is “the main economic driver of north Tottenham [and] needs to be given the confidence to continue its £800 investment generating 2,000 jobs”.
It’s not just major clubs that can be troublesome.
The torments suffered by Herefordshire Council as freeholder of Hereford United’s ground – and the latter’s inability to pay debts – obliged it to post a seven-page ‘frequently asked questions’ document on its website.
Coventry City Council was, until winning a judicial review last summer, embroiled in a mind-bogglingly complex legal dispute with the owner of Coventry City Football Club over use of the Ricoh area, which saw the club – to the displeasure of fans – playing home games at Northampton Town’s Sixfields ground.
This was perhaps an unhappy choice as both auditors and the police are investigating how Northampton BC came to loan £10.25m to an earlier owner of Northampton Town based on a business plan that now cannot be found and redevelopment that has not happened.
Back in 2012 Stoke-on-Trent City Council found itself in the embarrassing position of being Port Vale’s main creditor and so faced with offending fans by putting the club into administration or liquidating it.
Clubs normally approach councils when they want money – and it is a brave politician who tells a popular local institution to get lost.
Councils can then become sucked into a little-understood world, grappling with difficulties they did not foresee.