O'Neill in shock Hammers 'transfer'

Posted by Peter Thorne

Gary O'Neill West Ham PA PhotosGary O'Neill signed for West Ham from Portsmouth in 2011

In a shock move that has left competitors floundering like a defender trying to tackle Trevor Brooking in 1981, West Ham United have announced the surprise signing of ex-Middlesbrough midfielder Gary O'Neill.

The Hammers moved quickly to snap up O'Neill after the Beckenham-born 30-year-old was released by his former club, east London outfit West Ham...?! Wait a minute... For indeed, joking aside, in a move that has puzzled many, amused the rest, the Hammers have signed a player they seemed to have let go.

O'Neill was one of the players released from his contract at the end of last season and a number of clubs including Crystal Palace and Brighton were rumoured to be keen to offer terms to a player who made 17 league starts last campaign, coming on as a substitute for a further 7.

O'Neill himself has suggested that his re-signing was always a likely outcome and it was only a matter of arranging meetings after holidays and agreeing the small print, but this wasn't the expectation taken from comments from the club itself and there's no doubt many supporters are puzzled - if not surprised - by this decision.

The fact remains though that Sam Allardyce has always been keen on the player, turning to O'Neill on a number of occasions when others options seemed better, and we can only assume the re-negotiated terms suit West Ham better while the O'Neill himself probably appreciated the confidence put in him by the Manager and the coaching staff. Rumours that ex-Hammer Jimmy Greaves was seen outside the club shop hoping for some re-negotiations of his own are almost certainly unlikely to be true though.

Elsewhere, in an odd development, it seems that some missing paperwork is puzzling the legal parties looking after West Ham's proposed move to Stratford's Olympic Stadium.

With suggestions that the Boleyn will become a retail park and some luxury flats, developers of the site are keen to examine the freehold details to the Boleyn Ground which are owned by the club following negotiations with the Roman Catholic Church who formerly owned the Boleyn House and other land on the site dating back to 1869.

Title registers filed with the Land Registry, detail the legalise between the club and the Church covering agreements going back to 1912. However, neither the Land Registry or the Diocese of Brentwood, which now has jurisdiction over the area, can locate the documents.

The Hammers have had a long and amicable relationship with the church in that the club has either rented or bought land from various dioceses over the years. In 1959 an agreement was signed between the club and the then Archbishop of Westminster, outlining guarantees on the passage of water and sewer pipes and gas and electricity cables to the Church-owned properties, while in 2000, the club paid to build a new home for the adjacent St Edward's school in exchange for land to redevelop the Centenary Stand

The ground and surrounding are has long suffered from stories of a murky past, with unsubstantiated rumours that the former Boleyn house that once stood on the grounds was not only a home of Anne Boleyn but was, in fact, haunted - bringing about the oft-quoted stories today about the club's notoriously bad luck.

Nobody is suggesting that the failure to find this paperwork is likely to impact on West Ham's move to the Stratford site but it does cast doubts over certain aspects of who owns what and where around the Hammers' current home.

I wonder if anyone has thought to look in Gary O'Neill's sock drawer?

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