When West Ham supporters filed into Upton Park on Aug. 11 for the season opener against Manchester City, they had many heroes to thank for preserving the club’s Premier League status: Carlos Tevez, Robert Green, Bobby Zamora, Mark Noble, James Collins, Yossi Benayoun, Alan Curbishley and Eggert Magnusson.
Those were the key names who helped the Hammers win seven of their last nine fixtures of the 2006-07 campaign and jump from a bottom-of-the-table side with just 20 points from 29 matches to a team that finished in 15th place with 41 points.
But as the usual strains of “Bubbles” reverberated around the ground v. Man City, little did the supporters know that another name to add to that list of heroes is that of Jim Sturman, a 49-year-old Queen’s Counsel from the Hampstead section of Northwest London. He’s the man who argued Hammers’ case in the Tevez legal affair, and never mind that he only kicks a football in earnest with his three sons, Michael, Jonathan and Mark, or that he’s been a loyal Tottenham supporter for the last 41 years.
We owe the man, big time.
“You do develop a soft spot for the teams you represent legally,” Sturman said on Aug. 16 while summering in southern New Jersey with his sons and his Philadelphia-area native wife, Mara. “It sort of becomes a feeling of ‘us against the world.’ Quite frankly, it’s a privilege to work for a club like West Ham. Eggert Magnusson is a lovely man, and his chairmanship is a good thing for your football club. He has the best interests of the club and football very much at heart.”
While the ongoing machinations of the Tevez affair prevent Sturman from commenting on specific aspects of the case, he nonetheless has strong feeling regarding the ever-blurring lines between football and the legal sphere. But first, he shed some light on how he came to be in the employ of West Ham.
“There’s a code of conduct that prevents us from commenting on any case on which we’re currently instructed, and I’m currently instructed (in the Tevez case),” Sturman said. “I presume Mr. Magnusson found out about my work based on past dealings. I’m a barrister, a QC. The solicitors recommend barristers to lay clients. I don’t know how West Ham were pointed in my direction. You don’t really ask. I had no contact with Kia Joorabchian or Tevez, Professionally, the barrister would have no contact with the other side. You would obviously meet your own client, but you never meet the other side.
“I have worked regularly for Chelsea FC and Roman Abramovich for 10 years, but barristers are instructed on a case-by-case basis, so I could argue a case for any club.”
That’s not to say Sturman’s role in the Tevez case was antiseptic in any way. Quite the contrary. He spoke about English morning conference calls that he was dialing in for at 3 a.m. U.S. Eastern time. It seems odd that a QC’s computer based in Ocean City, New Jersey, would have such a profound effect on an East London football club, but that’s the new reality in 21st-century football.
“In terms of lawyers getting involved in football, there does seem to be an emerging trend of clubs seeking to use the disciplinary process as a weapon against each other rather than leaving it to the regulators – the FA or the FAPL – to bring charges,” Sturman said.
“It’s a very dangerous and disturbing trend. When a club invokes the disciplinary process against another, they set running a process that can lead to disciplinary sanctions. But they are in danger of creating a trend where clubs may look to do this all the time. And then it’s not about football. Then, it’s about law.
“And if you go on all the Web sites and read about the West Ham-Sheffield United case, one of the great things people seem to realize – and I hope the EX readers will understand that I mean this when I say it – is that the only people who gain from it are the lawyers. And it should be about football.
“And those clubs that sit in boardrooms thinking ‘We can gain an advantage over another club if we make an allegation of X, Y or Z’ … well, one day they could be on the wrong end of that,” Sturman said. “I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for football. They should leave it to the FA and the FAPL rather than seeking to use the disciplinary process as a sporting tool. The thought within any of the concepts of running the game – FIFA’s motto is ‘For the good of the game’ – and it’s not for the good of the game for one set of expensive lawyers to be acting on behalf of one club against another set of expensive lawyers acting for another club.
“That’s not talking about West Ham, it’s talking about a host of arguments that are out there at the moment. I think it’s a disturbing trend and not one that’s good for the game at all.
And Sturman certainly knows of where he speaks. Besides West Ham, some of his football-related cases have involved the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ashley Cole and Jens Lehmann. He’s also done quid pro bono work for the Spurs fans beaten by police in Sevilla, Spain, and AFC Wimbledon, which Sturman helped get a points deduction dropped from 18 to just 3 regarding the illegal registration of a player.
“I’ve been involved with football-related cases about 10 years, and I’ve been practicing as a barrister for 25 years,” Sturman said. “My first football-related case was defending Chelsea’s Graeme Le Saux for hitting Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler on the pitch after Fowler had been insulting him, and it’s just moved on in leaps and bounds from there.”
Even though Sturman is prevented from commenting on the particulars of the Tevez case, he certainly has some opinions on the healthy rivalry enjoyed between Hammers and Spurs. He especially rates the Hammers’ “Great Escape” of last season after watching West Ham’s 3-4 loss to Tottenham at Upton Park that left us marooned to the foot of the table with just 10 games left to go and with the sinking feeling that the season was done and dusted – especially after blowing a 3-2, 88th-minute lead.
“I would have thought the whole country was surprised at how West Ham recovered,” Sturman said. “Everyone thought their season was over. To win 7 of 9 after that loss speaks testaments to the spirit in the dressing room, the manager, the chairman and all the staff. What West Ham did was amazing.
“It is a tragedy that this fantastic achievement on the pitch has been overshadowed by the legal case and the furor surrounding it. I think Eggert Mangnusson made this assertion – the sore point is that the legal wranglings deflected attention away from what was a truly remarkable performance. When Paul Stalteri ran the length of the pitch to score the tap-in, West Ham were truly finished, but they proved everyone wrong.”
Sturman has seen his share of Spurs v. West Ham games at White Hart Lane, including when Anton Ferdinand leveled late on two seasons ago to give Hammers a draw. There were also the games when Ian Pearce scored a late goal to earn Hammers a draw at the Lane under Harry Redknapp, as well as last season’s biting incident involving Jermain Defoe and Javier Mascherano in a Hammers’ loss.
“I don’t have many happy memories of Spurs games against West Ham,” Sturman said. “Most of the games I’ve been at we’ve lost, and then there was the incident of the ‘food poisoning’ on the last day of the season in 2006. I was at Upton Park as a guest of (Hammers legal director) Scott Duxbury. It was a truly depressing day for me as a Spurs fan. If we had won, we would have pipped our great rivals Arsenal for a Champions League spot.”
But there was a happy visit to Upton Park for Sturman, a 3-2 Spurs win in the FA Cup quarterfinal which still rankles with Hammers supporters.
“I stood in the away end at your ground for that game during George Graham’s last season, when Sergei Rebrov scored two goals. I was underneath your old stand, right in the back, so the roof was over me,” Sturman said. “Being with the away fans, who are always the hardcore singers and chanters, the noise was deafening. It was absolutely fantastic as a Spurs fan. To have left that ground having got to the semifinal against Arsenal was a fantastic feeling.
“Spurs were having a pretty ordinary, in-and-out season,” Sturman continued. “George Graham was sacked just before the semifinal. It was a good win, and it was good to see Rebrov score those goals.”
Of course, Rebrov ended up playing for Hammers, scoring just one goal in the Championship.
“I don’t know what happened with him, really,” Sturman said. “I did watch him a lot in his first season at White Hart Lane, when he never gave the ball away. He was fantastic. He didn’t score very many goals, but he was great to watch. Probably those two goals that day (v. West Ham) were the highlight of his Spurs career, which is a shame, really.”
One aspect of that day that all fans – whether Hammers or Spurs – remember was the sheeting rain that came down.
“That’s why I was so pleased I was under the cover,” Sturman said. “I also remember a very terrifying trek away from the ground, when the West Ham hardcore faithful didn’t take very kindly to losing, and there was a lot of trouble at the tube station. And we walked through the blinding rain – myself and my friend Chris, who I’ve known all my life; we’ve supported Spurs together and we’ve been to a World Cup final together. We walked for about 20 minutes until we found what looked to be a deserted pub. We were going to call for a minicab to come and collect us to get us away from the aggravation that was going on.
“We opened the door of this pub and it was bedlam, all football fans screaming and shouting,” Sturman continued. “And they were all Spurs fans! They basically all walked as far away as they could with the same idea, and they’re all in the same pub and one by one, minicabs arrive from throughout East London and North London to take people home. I don’t remember which pub it was, but the landlord got a real windfall from the throng of Spurs fans. We were very excited and spent a lot of money in there.”
Another issue that strikes a vein with someone as informed as Sturman is how contracts and wage levels are not always as accurate as they should be when reported in the press. Recent examples include Hammers players such as Lucas Neil being reported as being on 70,000 quid a week.
“I think the only people who ever really know what’s in the contract is the player, his agent and the club,” Sturman said. “Sometimes, with all due respect to the fourth estate, the truth gets in the way of a good story. Whether it’s deliberate or not, I think sometimes footballers ‘big it up,’ either to look good with their peers or it’s an agent thinking about the next contract he negotiates for a player of similar standing.
“Then, if it’s reported that a midfield player can earn 70,000 pounds a week, well, that’s good news for the next player he’s trying to negotiate a contract for. Until I see it in black and white – I always take it with a pinch of salt -- but I think when a chairman of a club says his wage structure is ‘X’, then the chairman of the club is right. And other people might have their own interests served by saying something different.
“The chairman’s not going to get that wrong, as a general rule. If the club has a wage policy, as soon as they break that policy, then it’s bedlam. Every club – whether it’s a West Midlands club, for instance – as soon as they bring in a player on treble what established players have got, the established players are immediately asking to double their wages. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
The ongoing dispute between West Ham and Sheffield United brings to mind the situation in Italy last summer, when Juventus threatened to bring its quest for reinstatement to the Italian Serie A to the courts before being rebuffed by FIFA. Sturman watched that scenario with a keen eye.
“FIFA’s statutes do not completely remove the rights to go to the civil courts, particularly in relation to an employment dispute, because you can’t take away a worker’s rights regarding fair treatment by his employer,” Sturman said. “But FIFA’s statutes do discourage and, on the face of it, outlaw civil cases between one club and another and I think FIFA’s stance in that case is a very sensible one.”
And what does Sturman think about the Jean-Marc Bosman ruling, which changed the face of football forever, and the inclusion of the European courts in some footballing matters?
“FIFA’s statutes preserve the contractual stability of football. But an employer has to treat his employee in a way that’s compliant with FIFA statutes and, indeed, civil-law standards,” Sturman said. “You can actually cancel a contract for sporting just cause if you’ve not played more than 10 per cent of the games in the previous season.”
I reminded Sturman of how ex-Hammer Rio Ferdinand, when angling from a move away from Leeds to Manchester United, cited “psychological” concerns when refusing to tour Asia with Leeds under new manager Terry Venables.
“No one can force you to work for anyone. But what the statutes can stop is you walking away while under contract to play for a rival,” Sturman said. “In the same way as if you were an estate agent in East London, you couldn’t quit and take your services to a rival, say, 60 yards down the road. There are restrictive covenants that cover a situation like that. And football’s rules would prevent ‘John Smith’ leaving Spurs to go and sign for Liverpool just because he feels like it.
“The FA would not issue the registration, and if he wants to go abroad, FIFA might not issue the international transfer certificate,” Sturman continued. “So, it’s not as easy to say they have identical employment rights to other people.
“Part of the quid pro quo of not having identical employment rights is that they are paid sums of money that compensate them for the fact that they are not free to go and work for whomever they want tomorrow.
So when a manager says someone will “rot in the reserves,” it’s not as simple as that, correct?
“If someone decides that he’s absolutely had it at a club, you don’t want him rotting the dressing room,” Surman concurred.
While many fans in England determine their loyalties based on catchment areas, the romance of a bygone era regarding the FA Cup final also played a part. That certainly was the case with Sturman.
“My Uncle Phil, at the time I was 8, was a big Spurs fan, and the first Cup final I remember watching was ’66-’67,” Sturman said. “I was asked on the playground who did I support, Spurs or Chelsea? I said neither. I had to choose, and I watched that Cup final with my uncle and I have supported Spurs ever since. My father was a Manchester United fan
“In the ’70s, there were some good Spurs teams, although when I first began to go to matches in ’77 we were in the second division,” Sturman continued. “We were relegated in ’76. The first players I remember watching were John Duncan and Colin Lee. That was hardly a great Spurs side, but you support the good and bad and I believe you should never boo your team.
“Then in the early ’80s, the team of Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne was a fantastic team to watch. Jurgen Klinsmann was quite a bit later.
“I’ve been a season-ticket holder for about seven years. I have two season tickets and my best friend has four next to me, so that way I get to take the kids.”
Many Hammers supporters have such fond memories of the ’64, ’75 and ’80 Cup finals, as well as the ’06 version which saw us lose, albeit in a gallant manner, to Liverpool. But has the Cup lost some of its magic?
“It was in danger of doing so, but I don’t think it has,” Sturman said. “Everyone predicted when Manchester United missed the FA Cup to go and play in South America, it was the beginning of the end of the FA Cup. I don’t think so. I think it’s still got its glamour.
“I think Millwall getting to the Cup final was a good thing for football, or if it had been Crystal Palace or a team like that – the same situation. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching your team get knocked out by a minnow two or three divisions below, and as a Spurs fan I’ve seen my fair share of that over the years, as indeed have West Ham.”
Surprisingly, Sturman has a rock-and-roll alter-ego. He’s known as a ‘punk barrister,’ and the many Hammers supporters who love the Cockney Rejects would appreciate the fact that Sturman you wanted to be a bass player in The Ramones.
“I was a music nut, and I particularly loved that era of music – the punk, new-wave and two-tone stuff,” Sturman said. “I remember going to see the Ramones for the first time back in 1978 or 1979 at the Hammersmith Palais and just being gobsmacked at how fantastic they were. No songs more than two minutes, no pauses between the songs. Finishing the gig with a ‘Thank you, we’ve just broken our record for the fastest we’ve played 23 songs.’ And thinking ‘This is great, bite-sized pieces of music.’
“Unfortunately, I had absolutely no musical talent,” Sturman continued. “And some might say I wouldn’t really need much musical talent to have been a punk-rock musician, but I would have loved to have done that if I hadn’t become a lawyer.”
Sturman relayed a great anecdote involving his sons, Manchester United and the concept of “speaking truth to power.”
“My kids and wife were in Philadelphia in the Four Seasons hotel a couple of years ago when Manchester United were over for a four-sided tournament,” Sturman said. “And they’re in the lift with Alan Smith, who was a relatively new signing, a couple of other players and Sir Alex Ferguson, The conversation came round to football, and Alan Smith remarked that he was a player for Manchester United. My 5-year-old at the time said, ‘Manchester United are rubbish.’
“There was great laughter in the lift and Sir Alex laughed as well and said, ‘Who do you support?’ Jonathan said ‘Spurs’ and Sir Alex said, ‘Why do you support Spurs?’ and Jonathan said, ‘Because my father does.’ And Sir Alex said, ‘That’s a good reason, don’t change your team.’
Sturman saw that exchange as a reaffirmation of all the good things about football.
“I think a lot of people think footballers have lost touch with their fans, but I don’t think footballers have lost touch with kids,” Sturman said,
With pride, Sturman related how his professional contacts rendered him fortunate enough to attend the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final in Berlin.
“Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehman, who I’ve gotten to know very well as a client and friend, arranged three tickets for the World Cup final, so I took my father and my 9-year-old, Michael, and it was a fantastic experience as a football fan,” Sturman said. “It would have been much more fun to see England play Germany, which would have been fantastic with the England fans singing ‘Three Lions on a Shirt’ and the Germany fans who had adopted it and ‘Germanicised’ it for that World Cup.
“It was an eerie atmosphere in the England-Portugal quarterfinal when the German fans were singing their World Cup song to the same tune as ‘Three Lions on a Shirt,’ with the lyrics rewritten in German. It sounded like all the Germans were supporting the English. What was truly fantastic about that event was that the Germans wanted the English to get to the final as well. They really wanted it to be an England-Germany final and I think, by and large, everybody I met who went to Germany came back with a completely different perspective of Germany and the Germans.
“It was a great feeling to see the English and the Germans happily draping arms around each others’ shoulders, laughing and joking and singing,” Sturman continued.
And, what about witnessing firsthand the infamous headbutt by France’s Zinedine Zidane against Italy’s Marco Materazzi?
“I knew something happened, but from where I was, which was near the corner flag, what happened took place in the middle of the pitch,” Sturman said. “Seeing the replay afterwards, it was a clear red card. It was a shame to see the spectacle ‘ruined’ by that, but I don’t think I would say it was shocking, because I’ve seen worse things happen on the football pitch. But it was a pretty good headbutt to knock someone the size of Marco Materazzi over.”
And it’s that kind of fandom that prevents a lawyer like Sturman from becoming part of the soulless culture that seems to be devouring football in modern times. His credentials are especially evident when it comes to discussing the atmosphere that singing and chanting brings to football grounds.
“When Spurs went 2-nil down against Sevilla in the second leg of the UEFA Cup inside of seven minutes last season at White Hart Lane, there was a stunned silence for about 30 seconds, and thereafter there was 82 minutes of noise that make the hairs on your neck stand up,” Sturman said. “It was fantastic. They talk about the 12th man, but there was a 13th man that night. The fans didn’t stop, and the players gave it their all after seven minutes of being caught out by great football by Sevilla. I think what’s great about it is that it’s not stage-managed, it’s not rehearsed.
“There’s wit and humour at a football ground, and West Ham fans are fantastic at it,” Sturman continued. “I remember the chants last season were wonderful. Liverpool fans, West Ham fans and Spurs fans come out with some great ones. I think the Barcelona players were taunted by Liverpool in the Champions League with ‘Cilla wants her teeth back’ in reference to Ronaldinho and Cilla Black.
“It never ceases to amaze me how quick a genius in the crowd can be to get a chant going that is just hilarious. When my wife first started coming to football, she said, ‘How on earth did they come up with that?’ and she’s right. It’s part of the power and allure of going to a football match.”
(James Clark is the USA-based correspondent for EX.)