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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 18:05 GMT
Sam Hammam: Love him or loathe him
Sam Hammam

Sam Hammam, owner and chairman of Cardiff City, is back in the headlines, after crowd trouble at the club. But Hammam and controversy are inseparable.
He was the man who helped Wimbledon to realise the impossible dream. In 1988, the club which not so long before had been playing Merthyr Tydfil took their Crazy Gang tactics to Wembley, taunting the Liverpool team before defeating them in the FA Cup final.

Hammam joined in the Gang's antics, initiating new players by burning their clothes, scrawling graffiti on the dressing-room wall at West Ham, and keeping his promise to kiss Dean Holdsworth's backside when the striker passed Hammam's target of 15 goals.

A smiling Sam Hammam
All smiles at Wimbledon
When Vinnie Jones bit a reporter's nose, Hammam dismissed it as high jinks. But while many an opponent might bear the scars of Jones's tackles, violence among the Wimbledon fans was unknown, despite the passion the club engenders for its loyal band of followers.

Ninian Park, by the accounts of many a visiting supporter, is a different proposition, which is why no one is laughing at Hammam's role in the events which saw riot police called into action to curb scenes reminiscent of the dark ages of football hooliganism.

Hammam's decision to leave the directors' box to stand behind the Leeds goal, accompanied by a bodyguard with a recent ban for hooliganism, led to angry accusations by the Leeds manager, David O'Leary.

Tape seized

And when the Radio 5 Live reporter, Jonathan Overend, had the temerity to question the Cardiff chairman's action, the recording of Hammam's responding rant about "the English media" was seized by security men.

An angry Vinnie Jones
Vinnie shows his disapproval
"It's the first time I've ever encountered that kind of situation in my work," said Overend.

Hammam says he takes the walk at every home match: "I'm like a mascot". He denied inciting violence at the Cup match, claiming: "There were no problems at all."

He did not always feel so passionate about football. Born in a Lebanese mountain village, Sam Hammam qualified as a civil engineer and made his fortune as a building contractor in the oil-rich states of the Middle East.

When he left Beirut for Britain in 1975, so that his pregnant wife could have their second child untroubled by civil war, it was his love of tennis that took him to Wimbledon.

Falling out

Within two years, he had bought a share of Wimbledon FC, and in 1981, Hammam became the owner and chairman. Although by now he was conversant with the offside rule, a man who savoured Keats and Byron and sent his daughter to study at the Sorbonne, was, it seems, unlikely to feel comfortable amid the mud, sweat and foul language of the dressing-room.

A reflective Sam Hammam
Pondering the next move
But in 1991, the love affair with Wimbledon supporters began to turn sour, when Hammam, trying to find a solution to Wimbledon's meagre finances and crowds, moved the club from their Plough Lane home in Merton to Selhurst Park, in a ground-sharing initiative with Crystal Palace.

In 1997, he sold Wimbledon to a pair of Norwegian businessmen for a reported £30m and a year later sold Plough Lane to Safeway, pocketing the £8m profit.

"We had no suspicions about Sam's motives when he arrived at the club," says Laurence Lowne, of the Wimbledon Independent Supporters' Association. "He is a good manipulator of people."

'Insulting' stunt

Many Wimbledon supporters are sceptical about Hammam's new romance at Cardiff, which he bought in August, 2000.

Sam Hammam in altercation with Man Utd security staff
Hammam argues as Man Utd staff stop him sitting in the dug-out

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07 Jan 02 | FA Cup
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