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Sam the Sham


Regular (and even the casual) readers of SW19 over this past year will undoubtably noticed that I have never been the most supportive of Sam Hammam. Unlike many other people, I’ve felt that his contribution to WFC was never as wonderful as he was made out to be. I’ve fought my ground against muppets, I’ve fought my ground against my mates, I’ve even fought my ground amongst my own family. The usual retorts came out – “Why can’t you see that he’s done so much for Wimbledon?”. I usually replied in the affirmative, sometimes I never bothered because I figured that it was easier trying to get through a brick wall……

So imagine my shock on the 6 March 2000 when it transpired that Sam Hammam had brokered the deal for John Hartson to go to Spurz, a mere 10 days after he so publically stood down to hand the reigns over to Bjorn Rune Gjeslten. You should know the story by now – JH was announced as he was going to leave WFC after we lost 4-0 to Derby. A couple of days earlier, BRG had publically announced that we weren’t selling anyone. Fingers get pointed at BRG, until the shocking truth came out. Yes, I was shocked as well, but in truth I wasn’t really that surprised. And now that SH has destroyed his image at WFC amongst most Wombles, I will now explain everything. Brace yourselves….

Firstly, I want to explain the purpose of this article : I’ve had to do so much explaining about my anti-SH stance over the years that I want to put it all down on here and then just move on with things. Up until that fateful day, I would never have been “allowed” to write this article, not without some serious retribution at least. Even now, I’m still a little uncomfortable in writing it, but to my mind at least I want to get this out in the open. If some people think I’m being extremely bitter, so be it, but this is a purely personal viewpoint anyway…

So, where to begin. Well, the beginning, for a start. My first knowlege of the very existance of Sam Hammam came in the less than favourable time of the merger talks with Crystal Palace in 1986. Before then, I only knew about 75% of the players and somebody called Dave Bassett. I didn’t know who ran the club off the pitch, except Adrian Cooke (our secretary) and somebody called Reg Davis (this all courtesy Rothmans). Although a snotty nosed 10 year old kid at the time, I could never understand why a man running the club would risk such unpopularity by trying to sell the club off. Why was he doing it? Was he trying to make money? Was he using the club’s newly found high-profile to gain some publicity for himself? He certainly wasn’t doing himself any favours with it – the local press made him the villan, and reports that he wasn’t speaking to anyone about it made people hate him. The whole thing collapsed anyway, but I think the general level of distrust was still there for a little while, certainly. I put SH’s attempts at this stage to his sheer naievity of football club management – after all, it was only recently that he’d started going to games, and I don’t think that he really knew or understood the consequences of that action. Later that season, SH put himself in everyone’s bad books again, when he was responsible for forcing Dave Bassett out of the club (due to apparently telling Harry that he had the right to change the team). I couldn’t understand why he would want to change the team anyway, surely it was best to let the manager pick the team? And even now, I still can’t really understand why any manager would allow this situation.

Fast forward to 1988, I had totally forgotten about Sam Hammam’s existance, and we had made our way to the FA Cup (the rest is history). I was celebrating like any 12 year old would at winning it, until my mum told me that SH had publically announced that all the players were up for sale. I felt a little bit cheated by this, our greatest ever moment and he had decided to cash in on it in the worst possible way. Was he trying to get some money in for WFC? I found it very hard to see why the guy would want to publicise himself in that way. It made no sense, but I just got on with gloating to my mates at school that we’d won the FA Cup.

I don’t know why, but for probably the next 6 or so years, something really weird happened. No, not puberty (though as any male will tell you, puberty goes on for 5 years 363 days too long) but I found myself tolerating Sam Hammam. Even liking him. I don’t actually know why, I guess that’s what happens when you get to that stage. I could see (at the time) why we had to move to SP from Plough Lane (I didn’t like it at the time, in hindsight I still can’t believe I wasn’t as anti-SP then as I am now). I backed him when he had the bust up with Merton Council – but then I, like many many others, believed then that it really WAS the Council stiching us up. By this time, SH had decided to make himself the public face of WFC, the “father figure” if you will. I think it was about this time that SH had started to do the public walkabout thing he so often did (I certainly didn’t notice it that much before, but maybe he had done that for a while). Well, the press seemed to lap it up, certainly, and I would put this newly found tolerance down to the fact that we’d been slagged off so much in the press that when they started liking us, I figured that it was SH who was responsible, and for that we were grateful. We were being shafted by others, and it was SH who was protecting us from evil spirits. Or so I thought.

Then came Dublin – I grew up, wised up, and became angry with SH. After all the times SH has promised that WFC would move back to Merton, we get lumbered with this crock of shite. At first, we all thought it was a joke. We thought it was SH being “crazy” (and I hated that fucking word even then), and the party line that SH was only doing it because he was only sabre-rattling the council. And people really did believe it. Unfortunately, the rumours grew and grew, and my tolerance of SH was declining day by day (though he was being non-commital by this stage). Then, SH upped the ante, said how good the idea was and I must have flipped. Along with many others, I hasten to add. So this man, who had for so long painted himself as the “father figure” of WFC was in fact doing it for his own personal greed. The worst thing was, SH was going round to everyone saying that he was the “father” of WFC, and as his “children” we were going to go whether we liked it or not. This I found offensive, not only for me personally, but for those fans who had been supporting WFC long before SH even knew where Wimbledon was. A meglomaniac should not have been running WFC and that’s what SH had proven himself to be – a meglomaniac.

During this time, there were three aspects that formed my opinion about SH that to this day I still hold. The first thing was when Joe Kinnear spouted his gob off after the Barnsley “home” game. You know what he said, I won’t bother repeating it because even now it still makes me angry. The fact that SH didn’t sack him afterwards was one thing. The fact that SH didn’t even censure him make me think that he and JK were in this Dublin thing together, and he was putting his own personal gain above that of the club he puported to love. The second thing was when I actually wrote to him enclosing an article from UEFA condeming the move. He phoned me up, and tried to justify his standpoint. I was actually unprepared for this, but I stood my ground. He started off being kind, then he tried being authoritive with me, then when THAT didn’t work he almost sounded like he was in tears, trying to gain my sympathy. Actually, I was pissed off more than anything, because he didn’t seem to want to listen to what I had to say – it was almost as though he was phoning me up trying to tell me that Dublin was great, and if I didn’t crack under his pressure and worship his every word there was something wrong with me. I knew that Dublin was wrong, most others knew Dublin was wrong, he didn’t. The third thing, and although a more dubious circumstance, probably had a great deal of truth to it. The story goes like this : during the Dublin shit, SH went to a Millwall game at the New Den. He was asked by a Millwall fan about Dublin, and he is alledged to have said “I can do what the fuck I like, we don’t have any fans”. Whether he really said that is unclear (though as you will see later on, it wouldn’t be an isolated incident), but at the time he may have well said it in print.

Something strange happened during Dublin, namely the purchase of 80% of WFC shares to R&G. The reasons are unclear, though it could well be that SH promised R&G an instant return on the Dublin thing. Yet for some strange reason, SH claimed publically that he still had 100% control, which didn’t make sense. Why sell 80% for £19m and then still expect 100% control? As we were to see a couple of years later, that was bullshit – he didn’t, but he claimed he did, which made the whole thing smell rotten.

You could write a whole book on Dublin, and I hope that one day somebody does, so I’ll cut out most of it – suffice to say, the Dublin move blew out, due to FAI/UEFA/FIFA pressure, and SH had to go on a PR building exercise. He started rebuilding the bridges he’d burnt, and people were warming to him again. Indeed, I got to meet him in his office before a game (thanks to Jonesy), and yes, he seemed very humble, said he was looking at Merton and surrounding areas again. And to be honest, I was warming to him a little bit again. So had many other Wombles, in fact. The weird thing was, he was still painting himself as the “guvnor” yet didn’t have full ownership, which I still found puzzling.

Things started to change. Drillo was here by this time, but at the Drillo Day SH dropped a bombshell – he was “aggressively” looking at buying SP and I felt sick. So all his sweet talk of looking in Merton was bullshit. I started to get angry again, although this time I seemed to be in a minority – many people were buying the line that SH was feeding (insofar as he couldn’t find a ground anywhere – and I mean anywhere) – and believe me, it ain’t always pleasant being a maverick 🙂 Then, a development just before Christmas in 1999 started the downward slippery slope for SH….

It was revealed that Wyndmore (the company that owned 80% of WFC) needed £3m to cover the John Hartson signing (the JH signing was unusual for WFC – it was a lot of money, it was a player who was unfit in effect and who had a potential disciplinary problem following his head tennis with Eyal Berkovic, which led some people to believe that it was a dodgy deal by SH). KIR wanted some money from WFC to settle a short term loan – as we weren’t getting any money in from the stadium, or merchandise etc, it was decreed that a player would have to be sold to cover the debt. SH went absolutely ballistic, claiming that KIR was ripping the heart of of WFC, and immediately he went on a major PR offensive, claiming that he was the “soul” of WFC. The papers lapped it up, including the Sun’s appauling “Save Our Sam” campaign, something which many Wombles subscribed to at the time. He called on WFC fans to campaign for him, which was a bit of a departure when during Dublin he got really pissed off at people campaigning against him. Needless to say, it all blew over yet again, and things were (for the time being) calm. That said, something interesting did come up during this – Svein Bakke came in to look at the books, which SH didn’t like one bit. When some Wimbledon fan asked him about letting other people do stuff like marketing, SH went crazy, and was reported to have said “Why should I bother with marketing, we have no fans”. So twice he is alledged to have said that – hardly the sort of talk you would expect from someone who “cares” about the thing he’s openly slagged off.

Then, one day in late February 2000, SH announced he was selling up – many people were sad, although it was only SW19 who was publically blowing a sigh of relief. The usual obitiary for WFC was written, many Wombles were praising the man, cards of thanks were being prepared and yours truely was getting a right bollocking for being slightly less than upset 🙂 Then of course, we all knew what happened……….

I’m trying really hard not to say “told you so”, but I just can’t resist it – TOLD YOU SO. Okay, so I’m being a little bit smug, but I don’t mean to be smug. Serious. So why was I so anti-SH all the time? My main problem with him was that he always seemed to put his own PR before that of WFC. During Dave Bassett’s time, it was Harry who was considered Mr Wimbledon, something that SH resented. Well, eventually he got it, and boy did he milk it. Whenever WFC got mentioned, SH’s name always popped up. Whenever a quote was needed, who should always pop up? You guessed it. The West Ham graffiti thing, remember that? Suddenly it wasn’t about WFC, it was about Sam Hammam. Always was, and that’s why the guy annoyed me so much. It was as though WFC could never function without him, which as we all know we can (and indeed in many ways we could flourish without him). Still don’t believe me? OK then, why did he try and sell JH? Because he cared about WFC? Or because he wanted to get on the Spurz board? Why did he willingly accept £30m from R&G for his shares? As if he needed the money. Did SH ever give WFC the money for Plough Lane? Or is it still in his dodgy account in the British Virgin Isles, gathering dust and interest? If he was so concerned about not selling players to cover a £3m shortfall, why didn’t he put his hand into his own pocket? Why did he try to buy Selhurst Park when he said openly that he didn’t like the place? Because he wanted to jump into bed with Ron Noades? Because he wanted to merge us and Palace? (he tried that a couple of times, don’t forget). Suddenly, the whole thing makes sense.

“But wait” you may say “he did all that, but why then did he keep Wimbledon going for 23 years when he didn’t have to?”. Simple – he needed the publicity WFC gave him (he certainly fed on it). If you find it hard to believe that any person can do something for 23 years on an ego trip, just have a look at the the world of politics. Look at somebody like Neil Kinnock, who was opposed to the EC/Common Market for so long then jumped to Brussels as soon as he got the chance. Do you really think Lord Archer thought of the Conservative Party when he done all those dodgy deals? Of course not. Why do you think people like Robin Cook and Charles Kennedy are so pro-European (when in the case of Mr Cook, they were anti-European not so long ago). Simple – because they’re in it for themselves. Exactly the same with SH – he is exactly like a politician, someone who would tell anyone anything just to get what he wants out of the situation. Mr Wimbledon would never sell our top striker at such a vital time of the season. But somebody in it for themselves would…….

OK, so not everyone will agree with what I’ve written here. But it’s my own personal opinion, like I said, and the fact that I have got all this off my chest has helped me enormously. If you want to disagree, then please, disagree. Just don’t try and start a flame war over him. SH is history – he chose to destroy his own legacy so publically, and nobody should now miss him. We have a new beginning to look forward to, let’s try and make it better for WFC.

Oh, and did I mention the time Sam Hammam tried to change our badge to a fallen tree?